George Neill, of Arigato
GEORGE Neil is currently overseeing the finishing touches to Newbury’s newest restaurant.
Arigato will open its doors at a celebrity launch later this month and will offer diners high-end Japanese cuisine.
The new restaurant is one of two that Newbury-based BDZ Holdings is opening in the town this summer and has made its home in the Georgian grandeur of Bridge Street.
Sitting on the canal, the former Co-op Bank building is being sumptuously renovated back to its Georgian splendor with a nod at Japanese minimalism.
But the journey isn’t an easy one. The kitchen is being created in the former bank vaults and experts had to be called in to work through the solid walls. An old safe is still in place down there too, as it just cannot be moved.
The restaurant and sushi bar will fill the ground floor, which George describes as “lovely and full of light”, and a new original series of photographs that depict all that makes Newbury great will adorn the walls.
“It is very exciting,” adds George. “It is nice to be able to instill life back in to an old building.
“I am just waiting for the day I can serve the customers.”
Arigato, which means ‘thank you’ in Japanese, is a new BDZ venture in partnership with George and is being headed up by Adrian Wiley, the former general manager of Highclere Castle.
Adrian was responsible for launching the castle as a commercial venture for the 7th Earl of Carnarvon and has a successful portfolio in hospitality and heritage.
“Newbury is throbbing with restaurants, but most of them seem to be choosing the same market,” he explains.
“Japanese food is really big in the UK now, particularly with health-conscious diners.
“We are also passionate about the marriage between food and wine and will be using two suppliers who will provide wine that perfectly complements Japanese food.
“We will also bring a real taste of sake to the restaurant too.
“There will be a degree of education; our diners will be able to dip their toes in to something they wouldn’t normally experience.
“Japanese love whisky. They have some of the best and the most expensive in the world so that will feature too.”
For George, heading up Arigato is the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition.
In 1990 he began working part-time in London’s first Japanese restaurant, Mitsukoshi, while he was studying.
But he soon realised that being a chef was his calling and he left college to work full time at the fine dining restaurant in Piccadilly.
He spent five years there and says he learnt everything from the Japanese-trained chefs, learning to speak the language and training as a sushi and sashimi chef in Japan itself.
Eventually it was time to move on and George headed to the world-renowned Nobu, where he spent six months before a call from a former colleague drew him to Newbury.
A chef he had known at Mitsukoshi invited him to work at Donnington Grove’s Japanese restaurant, She Tennoji, and he made the move out of the capital.
This was where his path first crossed with Bob Rae, of BDZ Holdings, who was one of the founding members of the golf club.
In 1999 he then went on to become group head chef for Honda UK at Stanton House Japanese Hotel, where his work varied from menu creation to staff training and hygiene control.
After more than five years there and another stint training in Japan, a £7m project in London’s Paddington lured him back to the bright lights of the city and he became one of two head chefs at Yakitori restaurant.
“It was a big restaurant with 35 chefs and 240 seats,” George explains. “There were two bars and around 20 waiting staff.”
His next move saw him head to St Albans where he became the head chef of Mantra, before he moved back to London as the executive chef of Moorgate restaurant K10, where he was responsible for 40 staff over three sites.
A family move to Swindon saw George leave London once again and take up the role of executive head chef at Bristol fine-dining restaurant, Noa.
“The head chef had claimed to be a Japanese chef, but he wasn’t professional,” explains George. “I took over and
recreated it all. It was a great success there and I really enjoyed it.
“But the travelling was getting too much and so I trained one of the sous chefs to eventually take over from me and started my own small business in Swindon – UK Sushi.
“It was an online food ordering company and went very well.
“I liked not working for someone else and working from home. There were four drivers and two other chefs working for me.”
George was then contacted by the owner of Sushi Maki, in Newbury, and found himself working back in West
Berkshire and back near Bob Rae.
But George missed working in a classic Japanese restaurant and felt limited in the role. A chat with Bob then led to his dream job and Arigato was born.
The 50-year-old chef is now busy preparing his menus and bringing together the staff he will need to make Arigato the success that he, Bob and Adrian all know it will be.